Periyar tiger reserve is situated deep within the highlands of Kerala and is a safe haven for all kinds of flora and fauna, or so they told us when we booked up for a day’s hiking around the reserve. Excitement was in the air. To see a tiger would be nice although we knew this would be unlikely. I’d certainly settle for some wild elephants.

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Before setting off we were given some unsightly long socks to wear over our trouser legs to protect us from leeches. I didn’t see any on the way but when we stopped for a break, everybody had some on their special socks. I was surprised because they were so tiny. The majority of the group were quite panicked by these newly acquired passengers but I wasn’t at all bothered at the thought of them sucking my blood. Isn’t it supposed to be medicinal?

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After a modest breakfast of tea, jam sandwiches, cashew biscuits and bananas, we set sail on a bamboo raft. It was very low in the water and shoes, socks and leech guards had to be removed. It was very nice to trail our feet in the cool, clear waters as the raft bobbed along. Suddenly the group erupted with excitement when two wild dogs were spotted on the bank, cautiously eyeing up the floating rabble.

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Our guide said that it was very rare to see dogs such as these, roaming around.

“As rare as a tiger?” Somebody asked.

“Not that rare. Haven’t seen any tigers for nine years!” The Periyar Tiger reserve guide responded.

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Great. We carried on further up the lake and then stopped for a rather bland lunch of rice with a couple of pieces of veg (if you were lucky). Thoughts and flavours of Sree Krishna restaurant and it’s amazing thalis back in Thekkady were a distant and, not to mention lingering, memory now. The lunch kept us going for the rest of the day as we walked back to the reserve entrance (about an hour and a half away).

Whilst walking we saw some wild boar on the other side of the lake, and then later a herd of bison, all but specks in the distance. Perhaps I should have been grateful for getting to see these beasts, but where were the elephants?! That’s what I really wanted, well that and a tiger but I’d come to the conclusion that this was in fact never going to happen, for anyone, ever.

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Not far from the entrance, we did stumble upon a hollowed out tree that was teaming with spindly spiders. It was grotesque yet compelling to stare at until we were told to hurry up and move along.

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We left feeling a little deflated. The closest we came to an elephant was a pile of dung, not particularly fresh, and the bones of a long deceased bull. As we left the reserve, advertising banners plastered with fresh-faced tigers mocked us. ‘This is as close as you’re ever going to get’, they seemed to say, but then, that’s probably just as well.

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